Defiant: Chapter Two

In case you missed it, I’m posting the first novel I wrote here on the blog.  Don’t worry – I’m still going strong on the second novel.  I’m knee deep in revisions.  All the revisions!  If all goes well, you won’t be able to read my second novel here as I’ll get it published.  For now, you can enjoy my first attempt at writing a story!

Last week, we met Aida and her friends in a delightful game of hide and seek before we got some backstory and lore via conversation.  You can read Chapter One here.

Chapter Two

Aida shivered as she stared out the window, one hand on the wooden frame. Fear made Aida cold.

Zara opened the shutters each morning, brightening the hut and filling it with the sound of waves lapping against the shoreline thirty paces from the path. Sometimes Aida sat on the embankment and stared at the water, envisioning what the coast must look like. Outside was too dangerous today though, the blazing pink midday sun too bright against the cloudless sky.

The village expected the Kort from the north, but maybe they went around the lake and would surprise them from the southeast. Or pick up the trail from the southwest; the same way she came years before, past where she and her friends chased each other that morning. No one near to notice; the abandoned hut offered no protection. The fields were empty and the path open, an easy opportunity for surprise.

Aida couldn’t tell where the Kort came from, only that they were coming. If Sienna and Luca were like fish under the sea to her mind, then the Kort were a mountain tossed into the lake, and she was at the center.

“Breathe, Aida.” Zara’s tiny hand rested on the back of Aida’s shoulder as she looked out the window. She could feel the woman’s peace, but it brought no comfort.

Luca’s news of the Kort’s early arrival had taken Aida’s appetite once she had arrived with Sienna at their hut. She barely heard anything Sienna told Zara about the Warriors, Nathan’s opinions of the West, or the many dangers of Tymon. Zara didn’t appear to share Sienna’s concerns about the western visitors influencing the Calas, but cast a worried eye on Aida’s uneaten meal of bread, cheese, and dried venison left on the table.

Her chest and her stomach hurt, and she winced against the light outside. Aida usually loved the season, grasses and trees and plants growing after the freezing winter. Now, she was too terrified to enjoy the view.

She stood straight, one hand clenched on a fork from the table. Aida considered the fork, and then her sword. The blade would be better than the fork when they arrived. It had been Dominic’s, traded from Lortun, the “L” on the hilt evidence of their fine craftsmanship. Encased in a dark leather sheath and wrapped with a lighter leather handle, it would be deadly in the hands of a trained Warrior. Why was she holding the fork?

“Aida?” Sienna’s voice sounded distant.

The path in front of the hut ran south along the lake, wrapping around to turn east before dying out from lack of use. A narrow band of thick grassland lay between the drop to the water and the tree line. Aida could go that way, duck into the woods, and never be seen. The instinct overwhelmed her, but her feet wouldn’t move. She continued to stare out the window, knowing she wouldn’t be able to see the Kort.

The fishers rowed steadily toward the docks, the morning outing cut short by the incoming visitors. All wanted to meet the Kort, the first Pivals from the West ever to visit the village. Except me, she thought. They forget me.

“Aida.” Zara touched Aida’s left arm with her other hand. Aida clenched her teeth but turned her head to the older woman. “You need to breathe.”

Aida nodded, looking past Zara to Sienna and remembered Luca. Scout duty didn’t seem safe now. Did he go north, as he hoped? Would he meet them as planned? What if they thought him an enemy, coming upon them with his sword? He was too young, too inexperienced for the encounter. The image of the boy’s lanky frame, broken and covered in blood filled Aida’s mind. Swallowing hard, she fought off the revolt her stomach promised. The Temple blade would not stop the attack of a Tengarper or Venkri Warrior.

Sienna held a soft smile. “They’re just traders.”

Were they just traders? Traders brought carts of clothes, boots, and only the occasional weapon. Warriors came from the West. They fought all the time. These same supposed traders had attacked Lortun before another group of Warriors slaughtered her family. Violence came with the West.

Aida turned to the window again. The approaching army caused feelings she couldn’t understand. All the same feelings she’d had the night of the attack. “There are so many of them.”

The other women didn’t answer. Zara’s pale blue shirt came from a trader; surely she didn’t believe the Warriors cared for such delicate items. The groups across the mountains needed hardy clothes in their violent pursuits. They didn’t wear finery when they chased Aida’s parents all the way to the pass.

Dylan’s boy bounced up the path outside, followed by his older sister. More bright, festive clothes. They didn’t know the danger they faced as they walked toward the green. The villagers blindly went to their deaths on the word of the Council.

Evan, the Council leader, assured Aida the Kort didn’t harbor the same feelings for her as Isma held for her family, but what if he was wrong? She didn’t account Evan as being either the wisest or the most honest. A sudden, overwhelming hatred for the Council overwhelmed Aida for an instant before she pushed it aside with more fear. The Warriors might be there for her. They might kill her. That’s what Warriors did.

Warriors had chased her parents across the West to the pass, only stopping when they reached Calas lands. Guilty of the desecration of mating across Tymon’s chosen races, her father and pregnant mother fled. Aida didn’t know which houses were involved in the chase, but there were many. Only Lortun gave them safe passage. These Kort could be just as murderous as the rest.

Zara’s hand still rested gently on her back, and she patted her shoulder. Aida’s body forced her to take a few breaths, and then she remembered she should breathe intentionally.

Always remember to breathe.

Years of early morning practice kicked in, and Aida started a simple pattern. Her head pounded, but she relaxed some after a moment of focusing on her breath.

She looked down at her own clothes, nicer than those she’d worn when she had arrived at the village, but still rugged enough to flee. Her sturdy boots, only a year old, fit her feet well. Thick trousers covered her legs, and she favored dark brown tops. Aida was also a Warrior.

Zara’s hand remained on her back until Aida turned away from the window. Aida released her grip on the fork, sliding it between her fingers. It was bent.

“I didn’t like that one anyway,” Zara said as she moved to the table. Zara kept her hair short since Dominic’s death, the gray strands poking up causing a wild halo effect around her tanned face.

How many of those grays have I caused?

Aida closed her eyes and continued her breath pattern. Her heartbeat slowed, and her chest hurt less, but the pain in her stomach endured. Picturing her mother, she relaxed further. Her mother had held her hands that night and counted breaths to calm Aida, even though the Tengarper no doubt sensed the crushing presence of her killers’ approach. She felt what I feel now.

Aida realized her hand was on her sword. Evan was angry about the weapon at first, fearful she would insult their guests. It was Nathan who assured the Council leader Aida should wear it. “They will not be surprised she is armed. They might even find it flattering.” She didn’t need it now in the hut with Zara and Sienna, so she let her hand drop.

Zara lowered herself to the oak bench in front of the matching table, leaning against it. Aida regretted exhausting the woman with worry. She had sat the same way the night Aida arrived, remaining calm for Luca and Sienna just as Aida’s mother maintained calm for Aida.

Sienna still stood across the room, smiling as she always did. She didn’t appear worried about the Kort or her brother.

Aida glared. “You don’t like them.”

“Just because of what they worship.”

“You don’t know what a Warrior can do if you’re more concerned about their gods than their swords.”

“He isn’t a god.” Sienna crossed her arms.

Zara put her hand up from the table. “Not now.”

Aida turned from the women and walked to the hearth, the low fire still providing some warmth against the cool weather outside. She clenched her jaw. Her parents had sacrificed to Tymon and didn’t die. They didn’t die until other Warriors attacked them.

The fishers docked their boats up the path, and the yells of directions floated through the open window. They would join Dylan’s children, Aaron’s family, and the rest of the villagers on the green, ready to welcome the Kort. Ready to die.

Aida rocked back on her heels and stared up at the roof, blackened by years of smoke from the fire beneath. She swallowed against her dry mouth. Why couldn’t she control her fear?

She recalled the night of Isma’s attack. Her parents and their ikast were anxious, but she didn’t sense fear. They left their camp relaxed about the attackers. Aida was the only one afraid. Even after they realized they were trapped, the Warriors grew excited by the oncoming army, but not fearful. Aida trembled so much her mother needed to steady her. Only that physical connection kept her from screaming out against the terror.

It was warm then, but she shivered because of fear. Just like today. Her stomach felt the same and her chest hurt the same and she was helpless again.

She moved back to the table and sat next to Zara, pushing the bent fork back and forth between her fingers, the metal grating against the wood.

“There you go now, you relax,” Zara said. “We talked about how this might be overwhelming, sensing them for the first time. We’ll just sit here for a bit while you take it in.”

Remembering the conversation a few days prior, Aida nodded. She wasn’t sure what Zara meant at the time, but now she understood. In the eight years since her last encounter with warriors, her power had grown stronger and everything in her head was more intense than expected. It was different. Louder. She kept breathing.

“You can feel them? The traders?” Sienna asked.

Aida never discussed her abilities with anyone other than Zara and Dominic. Her friends assumed she had some mysterious powers based on the tales they’d heard, but only Luca had ever asked. She’d ignored him.

“Yes. Tengarper warriors can sense the presence of others, as well as their feelings if nearby.”

Sienna walked over and sat at the table. “How well can you sense us?”

“Not well. It works better with the Pivals from over the mountains.” Aida’s ability with the Calas had grown since she arrived, but it was still tricky.

Why were they so different? They were all Pivals; Venkri, Kort, or Calas. What made the Calas a challenge to sense?

“Seems a bit unfair,” Sienna teased. “That’s why you always win against Luca and me.”

Aida gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Now you know.”

The Kort felt closer suddenly, as if they’d sped up. Her heart quickened. She spun and looked out the window from the bench. No one was there. Feeling like she might explode, she turned to her breath. Eight counts in, ten counts out. The breathing helped; she needed to remember to do it.

Sienna looked at her expectantly. Aida realized the Kort still advanced, but the surge of excitement came from the villagers. She fared better with the Calas in groups, especially with stronger emotions. They knew of the Kort’s approach; perhaps the scouts had returned with word of their arrival. “They’re almost here.”

Aida’s stomach still churned, but she still tried to maintain her breathing and keep track of the movements of those outside. The anticipation of the villagers continued to swell, the Kort maintained their progress, and Aida leaned her head into her hands. This was much worse than she’d expected.

“Nathan and I prayed for you this morning,” Sienna said. “He thought this would be difficult for you.”

Aida wondered what the gods cared about her situation. Sienna never accepted that Aida might be personally offensive to the gods. Her parents apparently were; she assumed that was why they were dead. Still, it was a nice thought.

She hoped the Kort would stop at the green. The fear they could march on the village, killing everyone and then coming for Aida persisted in the back of her mind. She tried to count individuals, but it was like trying to number the grains of sand on the shore during a storm.

Aida looked down to recheck her belt and sword, before reaching down to her boot and the hidden throwing dagger. All but the youngest of Warriors would defeat her, but she might be able to kill a few soldiers. She had killed one when she was eleven.

She bent the fork back to its normal shape, setting it on the table before continuing to fidget with it. “It is like they are pressing on my mind, as they get closer. I can feel all of them.”

Zara reached out and put her hand on Aida’s, stopping some of the fork’s movement. Aida moved it away from her with her other hand and tried to remain still. She didn’t remember her parents or their ikast fidgeting. Why did she think she could travel to the West and seek revenge? She couldn’t even sit without moving.

Shouts came from the center of the village. The Kort had arrived. Aida waited for the screams of an attack, but none came. Everyone feels happy.”

Sienna leaned forward into the table. “I guess they really did come to trade. How do you feel now?”

“I may throw up.”

Zara moved her hand to Aida’s back. “I’m sorry this is happening. Dominic hoped we lived far enough south you’d never have to see anyone from the West again.”

Aida closed her eyes. She was calm enough now to be angry at herself. Warriors shouldn’t be scared like that; immobile from fear. Warriors were brave. Able to fight in a battle.

Emotions coming from the green settled, as the villagers calmed and the Kort stopped moving. It remained a significant force in her mind, pushing out against everything. The entire horrible experience was for nothing. The Kort weren’t attacking, and all Aida learned was she’d be useless if they did. She didn’t fit in with the Calas, and now she knew she wouldn’t do well as a Warrior. She ought to be able to do at least one of them right.

The anger compelled her into action before she could think more. Aida stood, rocking the bench with her speed, and returned to the window. “I should go up.”

She needed to overcome this fear and meet those from the West. This was the best opportunity. She could resume her life, knowing she had courage. She could still go west herself and meet those who killed her parents.

“Are you sure?” Zara’s asked.

Aida’s stomach was knotted and she was drenched in sweat, but she did want to meet the Kort. A Warrior would go and greet them. Her parents would have gone to see them. She was at her strongest; stronger than she’d ever be without becoming an ikast. It was time to act like it.

She checked her sword and knife again. Taking a deep breath, she stretched out her arms above her and then relaxed them, standing tall before walking out the door.

Continue reading Chapter Three here.

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